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Report on multi-tasking experiment

So a couple weeks back I conducted an experiment. No multi-tasking for a full week. (details here). This is my report.

First: it took planning. Unitasking (yes, that's a word, at least here on this blog, today), isn't hard per se, what's hard is managing everything on your plate so that you can unitask. To do it took some planning. I had to divide my day, and my days into planned chunks of unitasking time. So... some days, the easiest days, the entire day was devoted to a single task (a secret project I'm working on). I turned off IM, Email and my phone. I checked all 3 at the start of the day, at lunch, and at the end of the day. I also let bloglines go (checking at lunch). On days where I had to attend to multiple things, I divided my day into multiple chunks. Morning till lunch - one task, afternoon - another task. Two days I had to devote mornings to attending to various communication issues, but I did so with focus, restricting my time for that to that portion of the day. These were the hardest days.

Second: it was incredibly liberating.  In my line of work, getting and retaining a "flow" is critical to productivity. Knowing that the next 4-5 hours are going to be completely devoted to a single task was incredibly liberating. Instead of mentally tending those various issues, I was able to focus. Same with my chunky days. I made a list, divided my tasks up, then completely ignored them until the time to manage them came due. This mental relief allowed my focused time to be even more focused and productive. I guess that's as much about planning and organization as it is about multi-tasking, but it was a big productivity gain for me.

Third: It was a success. The truth is that I really was much more productive. My theory about the detriment of multi-tasking was proved completely accurate in my case. Multi-tasking is killing me. And my goal is to stop multi-tasking unless I've portioned a section of time (a day, or a portion of a day) to multi-tasking various disparate issues that need attention simultaneously. Maybe a half-day a week would do it.

Fourth: Doing it ongoing takes serious discipline. This is mostly because of habit. I've multi-tasked for so long that it's very difficult to break the habit. Doing it successfully takes daily planning, prioritizing, and sticking to it, even when you get lazy and wish to drift back to normal routines.

Fifth: Lessons for days I'm not as disciplined. I'd like to say I've done it every day since my experiment, but I haven't. However, I have done it some days since, and many partial days, and I'll be doing it more and more. A few lessons I have been applying on a daily basis: (1) Don't leave email open. I used to have Outlook running constantly. I was also extremely responsive to emails. Any time one came in, I was on top of it. I dropped whatever I was doing, disrupted my flow, and did it. Then I tried to cram real work in the cracks between emails. That's a great way to seriously cripple productivity. (2) Go easy on the IM-ing. This is my hardest habit to break and the one where I have the most room for improvement. (3) Planning makes such a big difference. Instead of wasting time trying to remember what to do next, or frittering away a morning because I don't know where to start, or what needs to be done - a little planning and those decisions are made for me, freeing me up to get to work. This is a bigger deal than I ever imagined.

Sixth: downsides. A few communication issues did slip through the cracks. I suspect this will get better as I practice and improve at fielding tasks and planning them. Some who were used to my insanely responsive communication turnaround may have noticed more of a delay, but no one complained.  It does take a bit more time to plan (although you gain it back in productivity). And I lost touch just a little bit with the outside world (blog reading, etc), miraculously however, I survived!

Verdict: totally worth it. A huge gain in productivity and personal satisfaction. I'm committed to making it my norm.

p.s. A couple clients read my initial post and didn't want to bother me or screw up my experiment! Attending to you is what I'm doing during those focused times! You're not bothering me. Worse that multi-tasking would be not having any tasks to do, and I depend on you, so please - bother me. 



Wow! A brave man indeed. This inspires me to attmpt... oops excuse me while I catch this e-mail... to do the same thing for a week. Thanks for sharing this with us!

Sinto WC2 buddy

Sheesh! I'm surprised Steven Covey hasn't hired you to promote "First Things First". Have you broke out your old Franklin Planner and started your A, B, C and 1, 2, 3 prioritizing as well?

What's sad is that you are revealing multitasking's true character as a fancy word for fragmented and borderline-disorganized. I liked it better when I pretended it meant 'unrestrained creativity'.


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